Rhode Island-based startup, Regent, wants to play a role in the decarbonization of the coastal shipping and travel industry and it's got an all-electric battery-powered seaglider to do it.
Recently, the International Maritime Organization – the U.N. agency that oversees shipping – revised its decarbonization goals to align with the Paris Climate Agreement, with an ambition to reach net zero by, or close to, 2050, with smaller goals in the near decades.
This is important because the sector is responsible for 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. However, in addition to policy, the tech needs to be up to speed.
With $60 million in Series A funding, Regent is aiming to be the first electric flying machine to be economically viable.
With a funding partnership from Japan Airlines, as well as other big names in the shipping industry, it secured an $8 billion commercial order ahead of its pilot crewed flight planned for 2024.
According to Billy Thalheimer, co-founder and CEO of Regent, a sustainable maritime mobility startup, “There are extraordinarily few companies today with battery-powered vehicles that can fly human crew.” But now, he said in a statement, Regent will “join the ranks.”
“Seagliders will be the first electric flying machine to be economically viable, and I’m willing to bet, the first one that the majority of the world will take a ride in,” he added.
Last week, North Kingstown, Rhode Island-based Regent announced both a $60 million Series A round and an agreement to study operations of their novel seaglider in Japan in partnership with Japan Airlines. In addition to investing in the company, Japan Airlines is partnering with Regent with the goal of delivering the next zero-emissions craft.
Regent’s seagliders are intended for both passenger and cargo transport. Named the Viceroy, the battery-powered commercial version can fit up to 12 passengers, but Regent’s ultimate vision is the Monarch, a seaglider that can fit 100 passengers on routes up to 500 miles.
Separately, the shipping versions can afford 3,500 pounds of cargo, which while less than the weight of a typical shipping container, can make a difference in transportation from island nations with traveling along coastal routes.
As Yasushi Noda, executive officer and senior vice president of digital innovation at Japan Airlines put it, “Japan, being an island nation, seaglider offers great potential for our country to connect people and to transport goods throughout the nation in a sustainable manner. By joining forces with Regent and utilizing their compelling technology, we look forward to bringing this revolutionary vehicle to the global market in the near future."
As Thalheimer said via TechCrunch, in addition to Japan, other potential markets include Miami, the Bahamas, the Pacific Northwest, and Hawaii. The reason the company is focusing on coastal communities is two-pronged. According to Regent, coastal communities like Japan’s are an under-addressed market segment that the company estimates to be worth $25 billion by 2030.
However, aside from the economic value, as international shipping continues to grow, the sector is responsible for 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.
According to the International Energy Agency, the sector is not on track for decarbonization, however as we embark on the great attempt to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, the industry will need to see a 15% reduction in emissions from 2022 to 2030.
Recently, the International Maritime Organization – the United Nations agency that oversees shipping – revised its decarbonization goals to align with the Paris Climate Agreement, with an ambition to reach net zero by, or close to, 2050, 20-30% by 2030, and 70-80% by 2040. While these goals are more ambitious than the minimum suggested by the IEA, technology will be one key factor in determining if companies meet the goals of the organization.
In addition to interest from Japan Airlines, the startup also has other big-name customers in the industry including Mesa Airlines, Brittany Ferries, and FRS. With big-name customers come big orders. So far the company has secured a commercial order book for over 500 seagliders representing more than $8 billion from its global airline and ferry customers.
Investors are taking notice. Aside from Japan Airlines Innovation Fund, other participants in the round included 8090 Industries and Founders Fund, which co-led the round, and Lockheed Martin, and Yamato Holdings, and is joined by Point72 Ventures, Caffeinated Capital, Mark Cuban, UAE’s Strategic Development Fund, and Future Planet Capital, bringing Regent’s lifetime funding to $90 million.
“The validation from such incredible strategic partners across the commercial and defense sectors underscores the urgent need for a high-speed, low-cost, sustainable mobility solution,” Thalheimer said of Regent’s investors.
In its most recent test flight, the seaglider reached speeds of 40 mph into the air, flying around 10 feet above the open ocean at a speed of approximately 50 mph in different, travel-safe weather conditions.
With the funding, the startup plans to capitalize on its full-scale prototype build and test program with a crewed flight planned for 2024. It also plans to certify, manufacture, and deliver its seagliders to customers by mid-decade. On top of that, the startup also expects the Monarch to enter into service by 2030.
“Regent is a once-in-a-generation company with the power to truly transform an entire sector,” Delian Asparouhov, a partner at Founders Fund, said in a statement. “Their faster, cheaper, and cleaner solution for regional mobility is the first radical advance in transportation in decades. Regent is a textbook example of the type of ambitious technologies we need to grow the U.S. industrial base and today we’re doubling down on our commitment to their vision.”